Quarterly review – Q1 2020

It’s been 12 weeks from the start of my personal 12-week challenge that I started in January. In this post, I’d like to comment on what I learned from it and take the opportunity to start performing public quarterly reviews of how my life is going.

Why quarterly reviews? Because this 12-week challenge overlapped perfectly with the first quarter of the year, and because quarters seem to be a nice unit for review. The idea of performing public reviews of oneself comes from James Clear’s annual reviews.

Failure at the challenge

Strictly speaking, the 12-week challenge in itself was an utter failure. The only dimension where I stuck to the challenge successfully was the workouts; but before the challenge I already had a strong habit of working out, so the change was minimal.

I’ll go through the actual numbers in reviews per section, but the steam of the challenge lasted only for three weeks. However, a different thing happened this time, in comparison with previous failures: I kept thinking about the challenge and adapting my actions to find a way to reach my goals, mainly because I committed (somewhat) publicly to it, and because I knew I would have to write a review about it. This might be the greatest benefit by itself: even when things didn’t go according to plan, I stayed mentally accountable for my actions, considerably more than usual. Having this review in mind kept me more willing to adapt, get back on track, and fail better.

While I could have tried harder at it, I feel that it’d been almost impossible to stick with this fourfold challenge (exercise, fasting, working on the libraries and working on the apps) with my current level of willpower, motivation and external pressures. I’m happy I gave it a shot, but this verged on a Five Year Plan. However, I have come up with different changes that might give me a much better shot at moving forward on Q2 2020.

Goals

My goals are unchanged. If anything, I’m still more committed to them now than at the beginning of the year.

Workouts

I skipped only two workouts out of 65 total, which means I performed 97% of the workouts. For the 11 weeks where there was no Covid-19 quarantine in the Netherlands, I did 8 runs (73%), which could be improved but it’s still quite good.

This habit is definitely solid and I’m learning a lot from it so I can extend its lessons to other habits that I’m struggling with.

The exercise itself has been almost unchanged throughout the period, except that I added five sets of pushups before the workout. I highly, highly recommend having a daily pushup routine, which can be interspersed with other things to have some rest between the sets.

I had two weeks where I had a small injury on my back (because of indoor bouldering) and I still wanted to work out – I scaled back the workout, but I didn’t miss it. This experience showed me that it is actually harder not to workout than to workout, when the habit is so ingrained. Definitely not something that would have happened even one year ago.

I think that exercise seems to be working well as a habit because:

In sum, I am satisfied with this aspect. I might make changes on my workout routine at some point, but for now it’s a stable, trustworthy part of my day.

Fat loss

The evil twin of my exercise habit. This one is so much harder for me! First the numbers, then the conclusions.

Note: mcal is a thousand kilocalories. Positive numbers mean caloric superavit, negative ones mean caloric deficit. Waist measurements are in centimeters, at the beginning and at the end of the week.

I just summed the deficits and superavits. Guess what’s the net figure? -0.5mcal, a 500 calorie deficit, which is almost nothing! So I’ve been standing still in terms of calories. In terms of waist, after losing some weight at the beginning of the year (weeks 1-3), I went to my steady state level of 91cm.

Some context: I estimate that I consume about 2.5mcal per day, or about 17.5mcal per week. The waist measurements are done at maximum extension, so I cannot cheat myself.

It’s interesting to see that my waist and my caloric estimates seem to be in line. This is reassuring.

Here’s what didn’t work for me about the fasting (with protein) 3x week:

On recent weeks, I’ve been experimenting with adding about 0.5mcal to the fast/lean days, so my deficit per lean day would be 2.5mcal-1mcal = 1.5mcal, instead of 2mcal (the protein is about 0.5mcal). This feels about 80% easier than doing a protein fast. It also has two enormous benefits:

Something else that I realized: the time when I first eat is a major predictor of a day where I overeat. So I’ve realized that OMAD┬áis a must for me.

This leaves the question of what to do on other days. I also feel that there needs to be flexibility, providing for a social life and the fact that food is and will probably always be an escape hatch and a source of happiness. So, starting this week, I’m implementing the following:

Overall, I’m aiming for a 4.5mcal weekly deficit, which is about 25% of my total weekly caloric expenditure. By my estimations, that’s half a kilo of fat per week (assuming I’m burning mostly fat instead of muscle), and about 1.5cm of waist.

At the moment, I estimate to be carrying 6 kilos of extra fat. My end goal is to get rid of it, while preserving (and perhaps slightly increasing) my muscle mass. I estimate that my waist will be about 71-73cm when I reach my goal of 10% body fat (I estimate 3cm of waist loss by kilo of fat loss).

The good news is that when I reach my goal, I can scale this back and still maintain it. I don’t expect my caloric expenditure to go down significantly. The promise is that, after reaching my goal, I’ll be able to maintain a very healthy body composition with perhaps the ease with which I now work out.

What I expect to happen this quarter:

Focused work: libraries & apps

My challenge specified that I would work for 90 focused minutes on my set of open source libraries (ustack), and 90 focused minutes on one of my apps, from Monday to Friday.

Even this goal, which I would consider relatively modest, was also a failure. These are the numbers – Nx means I worked N days that week:

According to the challenge: ustack 97:30 65x / apps 97:30 65x

Actual figures: ustack 50:15 54x / 75:50 56x

The numbers are actually better than I thought. Still, not great. In terms of sessions, I worked about 85% of the days I was supposed to work. In terms of time, I worked only 78% of the expected for the apps, and about 51% only for the ustack.

What didn’t work for me:

What I will do this quarter:

What I got done this quarter:

I expect to do the following this quarter:

Learning

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to add learning activities to my weekdays. They consist of languages, math and piano, to be done Monday-Friday. I didn’t include them in my goals, but I still wanted to keep on doing them. I particularly neglected learning during the beginning of the 12-week challenge, and realized this was bad, so I’ve been better at doing them. Here are the numbers.

Totals: language 62%, math 66%, piano 68%. About 2/3 of my goal. Also better than what I expected.

There’s a positive correlation between doing the learning early in the morning and how many sessions I complete a week. Unfortunately, this also impacts my focused time working – there’s only so much you can do in the morning.

What I will do this quarter:

Odds and ends

I’d like to close this review by thanking those working hard and putting their lives on the line during the 2019-2020 Coronavirus pandemic, which is unfolding as of this writing. Thank you.

PS: I’d also like to thank my wife Veeka for putting up with me 24/7 during the lockdown. Here’s to (at least) another month of lockdown!